In this age of rush, nothing is more critical than moving slowly.
Tias Little is an internationally known yoga teacher and brilliant writer. His most recent book, The Practice is the Path (2020) is a compelling read, even if you don’t practice yoga. His explorations include emptying before you begin, right effort, not knowing, and more, but it was his chapter on how speed gets trapped in the body that really hit me.
“We are a culture of speed,” Little begins. “In the accelerated pace of today’s world, the body’s physiological rhythms are amped up.” (37) Speed disrupts circulatory flow, electrochemical signals, and the movement of fluids, and throws off digestion, sleep, hormonal balance, and respiration, “compromising the body’s capacity to self-correct or self-regulate.” He continues:
“When caught in pressurized speed traps of stress and overwork, the body’s homeostasis is disturbed. With speed trapped in the body, we are prone to sleeplessness, hypertension, inflammation, autoimmune disease, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, and erratic temper. . . . Speed constricts the heart while amplifying pressure in the circulatory vessels throughout the body.” (38)
Just reading this made me stop what I was doing and slow my breathing. We know all about being busy and we know being rushed doesn’t feel good, but have we made the connection between the speed of modern life and the physical changes in our body? And are we conscious of the triggers that kick us into speed mode, into our own form of frenzy, even when we appear to be in control to a watching world?
Speed trapped in our body saps our energy, clouds our thinking, presses us to make poor decisions (or “freeze” and make none at all), and limits our creativity. Habitual rushing teaches us to “hurry even when we have nowhere to go” (40) so we grab our phone to check what happened since the last time we looked (30 seconds ago) and we create unnecessary tasks when we have a free five minutes, instead of just taking a pause.
In the long term, speed can cause or worsen a whole host of health conditions. Speed can compromise relationships with ourselves and others. A rushed life prevents us from operating at the level of our true selves because we have not slowed down enough to remember who we are and to create healthy boundaries that bring us back into balance.
“One of the primary aims of a regular self-care practice is to help reset the body’s internal clock and support its regulatory functioning. This requires, first and foremost, slowing down.” (43)
I know, you “just don’t have time right now.” But having time is more about self-awareness and decision making; even (maybe mostly) in changing the way we think. Moving from reactive to mindful, from externally imposed to internally chosen, significantly changes how we feel and how our body responds to busyness.
Without slowing down to breathe and think clearly, we spin our wheels and create more work for ourselves. Unless we carve out focused time for an important task or relationship, we can’t go deep enough to see the challenge and begin to know how to meet it. And until we acknowledge our speed-driven life, we allow our destiny to be determined by . . . who, exactly?
“In an age of speed . . . nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
It’s time to change our perspective on speed, to slow down enough to live our lives well. This requires us to release our grasp on control or the appearance of importance (“I’m so busy . . .”). It means facing what might await us when we take the time we think we don’t have. But slow can be healing, insightful, even, as Little calls it, “exhilarating.”
Take a slow breath. Look at someone and be present. Pause a moment before you respond. Unclench and stop gripping. Move your phone out of sight. Find a place you can go to remove distractions, even if it is your bathroom. Quit thinking “I’m always behind.” Say no to something you don’t really need or want to do. Stop owning other people’s emergencies. Plan well and then let go. Be selective in your comments to singers in rehearsal, rather than racing through so many directives that they—and you—can’t keep up. Do. One. Thing.
Rollo May wrote, “It is an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.” Life will not make time for us; we must make time for life. Let’s resist the culture of speed, slow down, and find our way again.
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice. Reach her at:
The Practice is the Path: Lessons and Reflections on the Transformative Power of Yoga by Tias Little
The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer, quote, pg. 66
Laughter is great medicine—check out this classic clip to help you “slow down:”